There is a particular kind of critic that points at the work they’re reviewing and says ‘Yeah, well, if I had done it, I would have done it like THIS’. I generally hate those kinds of reviews and I only point this out because I’m ashamed that I’m kind of going to do the same thing in a few paragraphs time.
Gaspar Noe’s followup to his infamous Irreversible, Enter The Void is the first film I saw at the London Film Festival this year and it’s probably worth noting that as soon as the lights went down, the flu/fever that had been threatening to make itself more apparent consumed my entire body. This might have influenced my patience with the film but let me tell you this, Enter The Void is feverish enough on its own without you sweating in your seat independently. The plot is slight; the film is told from the point of view (literally) of Oscar, a drug dealer in Tokyo, who gets shot in a drug raid and has an out-of-body experience. Floating around the city, we see the events that led to his being shot, the bond he has with his sister Linda and the possible consequences of his actions.
The easiest parallel I can come up with for Enter The Void is Darren Arronofsky’s The Fountain. Arronofsky had just come off two visually exciting, controversial, critically well-regarded films and ploughed a lot of time into what sounded like a psychedelic treatment of some very basic themes – love, death, loss, regret, rebirth. And what we got was intermittently stunning, but overall rambling, self-indulgent and full of philosophy that didn’t make a great deal of sense or contribute to the emotional tone of the film. Now, I think Enter The Void is better than The Fountain, but those criticisms apply even more to Noe’s latest opus. I think I can say my major problem with Enter The Void is that it’s too long. Waaay too long. There’s a lot of use of repetition in the film, that for me doesn’t really work. And I usually love repetition in music and films – it has a hypnotic quality when done right, you appreciate tiny details more… In Enter The Void it just gets a bit boring. I honestly think at least half an hour of the film could be removed without harming the story, tone or momentum one bit. Of course, I feel like a dick writing that, I’m not an editor, I have no way of knowing how it would play edited down to such a degree, but I desperately wanted to LOVE Enter The Void and only ended up liking it, and I’m pretty sure that it was because this story does not need 2hrs 40mins to be told – Seul Contre Tous is still pretty amazing in how it condenses its story into its time frame and it’s got a LOT more to work with than Enter The Void.
My other problem with the film is that Noe has thus far worked with great actors – Philippe Nahon made the butcher in Seul Contre Tous compellingly horrible and Bellucci, Cassel and Dupontel made their characters charming and believable in Irreversible (quite a feat, when you can barely make them out for the first 40mins). By comparison, the characters in Enter The Void are straight-up annoying. They are mostly demanded to either scream or look drugged and whine. I mean, I’m sure we’ve all known people like this but verisimilitude isn’t a good reason to put up with them for this amount of time.
This is weirdly less a deal-breaker than you would think because ultimately Enter The Void is all about the visuals and Noe couldn’t make a visually boring film if his life depended on it. The film is exploding with colour the whole way through, either from the city lights of Tokyo, hallucinated blobs, constant strobing… my eyes felt quite sore afterwards. The opening 15 minutes is bewildering in terms of how many effects are taking place – hallucinations, constant blinking and blurring all happening all the time. Like Irreversible, it settles into something more conventionally watchable about halfway in but it’s still pretty kinetic. It’s that skill with images that would make me recommend Enter The Void, as it genuinely isn’t like any other film you will see, but ultimately Noe’s way with a story here is a disappointment, particularly after one as affecting as Irreversible, and it does make some of the more outre stuff (yes, there is a shot of a penis inside a vagina ejaculating at the camera and a whole ton of other very obvious Freudian images) less earned.
In short, breathtaking visuall, and unsatisfying emotionally, but sometimes the visuals are so good that it doesn’t really matter.
N.B. If you’re going to see this, its absolutely something that should be seen in the cinema – this will lose so much on a smaller screen.